After the Nets dealt away four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant, they were supposed to rely on their defense. But so far, it’s been a sieve, not a strength.
Since the trade became official, the Nets have dropped four of five games, including a couple of blowouts. Their defensive rating was second-worst in the league (125.3), their net rating third-worst (-13.3).
“Our guys are getting used to [how we play]. … There’s a defensive terminology also,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “When you’ve been raised in a system like the two kids from Phoenix, they’ve been raised in that system, that’s all they know. So the terminology is different; my communication is different with them. What we’re trying to accomplish is different. It just doesn’t happen in five games like that.
“The other two are coming from a different organization, too, where some of their switches are different than ours. The way we do them, the ability to keep them in front, why we do them. So it’s still explaining the why to our guys right now. I think it’s going to click. I believe it’s going to click. But … there’s some defensive terminology and some stuff scheme-wise that we’re still getting a grasp of.”
All four newcomers have started all five games since the Durant deal. The “other two” are Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith from Dallas, where the Mavs switched on occasion but far less than the Nets.
“Defensively you’ve got a bunch of guys coming from different systems getting into a new system, needing to rely on a massive amount of communication,” Dinwiddie said. “We’re just trying to work the kinks out.”
The “two kids from Phoenix” — Cam Johnson and Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikal Bridges — are admittedly going to have more kinks.
Both will shoulder more offensive burden than they did with the Suns, but Johnson knows the adjustment will still be far tougher on the other end.
“It’s the defensive end. Defense in the NBA, [there’s] a lot of ways to do it and it’s all on principles. Principles, principles, principles,” Johnson said. “Not to make any excuses, but for four years I had a coaching staff who was very adamant on certain principles. … After day after day after day of working on them, they get ingrained in your head. Some of the principles we have in Brooklyn are the complete opposite.
“Once we iron out those instances where we’re reacting a quarter second late, our defense will be a lot sharper once that becomes instinct. There’s a couple rotations that I know personally over the past five games that I’ve missed because I’m caught in a middle ground where my mind is reverting back to old habits. But it’s getting better; as long as we continue to clean it up when we’re the aggressors on the defensive end it covers for a lot of that indecisiveness. It’s a work in progress.”
The Nets switch more than any team in the NBA, and they do it 1 through 5. The Suns were a classic drop team, like Kenny Atkinson’s Nets had been.
“Yeah, we were a drop team; this is a low man team. We’re a steal-out. We red everything off ball in Phoenix basically, and that’s a little bit different from what we’re doing now,” Bridges told The Post. “We know what we’re doing; we all know our concepts, and when they become just clockwork it’ll take us to another level.”
The Nets red in the paint — usually bigs in the post — while the Suns did so off the ball. Sure, the endgame of getting stops is the same; but the game plan is different. So is the scheme, and the language. That’s why the defensive adjustment is harder.
“Oh, for sure,” Cam Thomas said. “It’s definitely a lot of new guys, trying to figure out how to play with each other, different terminology. Everybody says stuff different, so we’re all trying to get a feel for that part of it. Because [it’s] a bunch of new guys, everybody guards different. So it’s just getting a feel for the new guys. It’s just time.”